The arguments for and against a third airport runway have been so well rehearsed by supporters and critics that they risk becoming clichés. The debate boils down to weighing the economic gains against social and environmental costs. While pursuing competitiveness and growth is unobjectionable, concerns about marine life and pollution are not to be ignored. The question is how to minimise the impact without holding back development.
This is what the Airport Authority is doing. In a renewed attempt to meet the standards laid down by the law, the authority has submitted a revised environmental impact assessment report. The study concluded that the project would not have an adverse impact on residual air quality. To mitigate noise pollution, residents nearby will be given window insulation and air conditioning. But the report admitted that the habitat of white dolphins would be destroyed by 650 hectares of land reclamation. To make up for the damage, a 2,400-hectare marine park would be created nearby.
While these measures can help to mitigate the impact, they are unlikely to satisfy the environmentally conscious. They argue that the dolphins will not return once their habitat has been destroyed. It is now up to the government and its advisers to decide whether to give it the green light.
Our world-class international airport at Chek Lap Kok probably would not have materialised had our environmental awareness been as strong as today. Thanks to the vision and foresight of our policymakers two decades ago, Hong Kong's edge as a regional aviation hub has been further enhanced. Back then, the environmental impact caused by construction of a brand new airport was, undoubtedly, much worse than building a runway. Thankfully, we didn't let the adverse impact stand in the way of the project. It would be unthinkable if passengers and cargo were still flying out of Kai Tak, which would look almost third world by today's standards.
If the airport is a vital pillar of growth and competitiveness, there is no reason to clip its wings of expansion. The need for a third runway was floated as early as 2003. Despite an estimated price tag of over HK$136 billion, which would make it the costliest endeavour in the city's history, it is estimated it would bring benefits worth HK$912 billion. Singapore, Dubai and London are all aboard to expand their airports. We stand to lose out if we don't let our vision fly.